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Zimbabwe Opposition Denies Terrorism

Zimbabwe's main opposition party denied it was stockpiling weapons or waging a terror campaign, as state media reported that police had seized weapons and explosives at the party's headquarters during a raid.

The top leader of the Movement for Democratic Change was freed after being held by police for several hours after Wednesday's raid, party officials added Thursday. Police denied arresting Morgan Tsvangirai as he prepared to talk to reporters about a wave of political violence that left him briefly hospitalized.

At a news conference Thursday, opposition lawmaker Felix Mashu said he and dozens of others arrested Wednesday were beaten and kicked by police wielding riot sticks. Tsvangirai was not beaten, and was released after several hours' detention to go to his doctor because he still was suffering dizzy spells from alleged police beatings earlier this month, party officials told reporters. There were fears at earlier this month that Tsvangirai's skull had been fractured.

Tsvangirai did not appear at Thursday's news conference.

Police arrested some 60 people in Wednesday's raid, including people with no connection to the opposition party who rented office space in its six-story Harvest Building headquarters, Tendai Biti, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, said at the news conference.

Biti said many still were being held, but he did not know how many.

Several people were released Thursday morning, including Mashu. Mashu said those arrested were taken to police headquarters, where "they made us lie on our bellies and beat our bellies, buttocks and feet."

Police told state media that they had seized weapons and explosive and arrested 10 activists at the party's headquarters in Harare. On state television on Wednesday night, police displayed explosives, detonators and two handguns that they alleged were found at the home of two arrested opposition officials.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said police found 53 sticks of dynamite and 35 detonators in the Harare home of one of the officials, Piniel Denga.

State television reported Wednesday night that some of the seized explosives were of the type the United States sold to the Zimbabwe National Army in the 1980s. President Robert Mugabe has accused Western nations, especially former colonizer Britain, of arming his opponents — charges they deny.

Police spokesman Bvudzijena said the dynamite was similar to that used in a gasoline bombing on a train Friday, in which five people were injured. Opposition officials had earlier denied having anything to do a series of mysterious bombings.

The Herald, a government newspaper, reported that suspected opposition operatives on Wednesday mounted an unsuccessful petrol bomb attack on two gasoline tankers near the eastern city of Mature, the ninth alleged petrol bombing this month. The tankers failed to ignite, the newspaper reported.

"The MDC does not have any arsenal of weapons or armed movement, the story is not credible," Tsvangirai's aide, Eliphas Mukonoweshuro, said.

He said the opposition was not waging an armed terror campaign against the government, as police claimed. Police had said they arrested a total of 35 opposition members in recent days, saying they belonged to "democratic resistance committees."

Alec Mmuchadehama, a lawyer acting for the opposition, said the legal team was investigating the reported arrests but had been denied access to those detained.

Human Rights Watch researcher Tiseke Kasambala said Zimbabwe government was trying to portray the opposition as the main perpetrators of violence.

"We believe the main perpetrators of violence are the government," she said at a news conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, adding her organization had no evidence of who was behind the bomb attacks but that they showed "the violence is spiraling out of control."

The United States said Mugabe was trying to intimidate legitimate political opponents.

In Washington Wednesday, State Department spokesman Tom Casey also urged southern African nations to make clear that Mugabe's actions in the recent past are unacceptable.

The U.S. comments echoed statements from the European Union and Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch called on a regional meeting opening Thursday to take strong measures to address the escalating crisis.

State radio said Mugabe left for Tanzania Wednesday to attend the meeting of the Southern African Development Community on the political turmoil in Zimbabwe amid concerns the crisis could threaten regional stability. Ruling party spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira told state radio Mugabe would brief the Tanzania meeting about violence in the country and the arrests of activists.

Before leaving, Mugabe held a meeting of his politburo, the ruling party's highest policy-making body, to discuss whether to hold national elections in 2008 or 2010.

Shamuyarira said Mugabe, who has pushed for a delay until 2010 that would lengthen his rule, expressed willingness to run if nominated.

Mugabe, 83, is under growing pressure to step down as leader of the country he has ruled since independence in 1980. Tensions are said to be rising in his party over his succession, and the opposition blames him for the country's corruption and acute shortages of food, hard currency and gasoline.

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